One generation has Flash Gordon, another had Star Wars, and now the current one of 2017 has the Guardians of the Galaxy among its most lauded space heroes. With its own unique sensibility, the film incarnations of these long time Marvel characters made a major splash with their first film in 2014. I read one comment from someone who had seen the newest sequel Vol. 2, and they compared it to an extended episode of the Disney XD television series. Maybe so, but in this case that’s hardly a bad thing.
The storyline in this film feels noticeably separate and relatively self-contained from the rest of the MCU. Director and writer James Gunn maintain that same disregard for sci-fi conventions that made the first film so enjoyable, not to mention its usual wheelhouse of exploring family relationships in depth- even if the ones you consider your family aren’t necessarily blood relatives.
That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of eye candy, space battles and explosions for the audience to enjoy, and the first five minutes make that clear. Dave Bautista’s Drax is a show stealer as he helps the team battle a giant slobbering monster, the Abilisk, while the now minuscule Groot (Vin Diesel) makes the 70s soundtrack (in this instance, the precocious tree-boy dances to ELO’s “Mr. Blue Sky”) playing during their battles a priority, as is his friend Rocket’s (Bradley Cooper) request.
All seems well in their attempt to protect some rare objects from the creature on behalf of a snooty alien race named the Sovereign, and in exchange, they get to rescue Gamora (Zoe Salanda)’s revenge-seeking sister Nebula (a constantly snarling Karen Gillian).
However, when Rocket gets on the aliens’ bad side, the Guardians are caught between angry enemy ships and an asteroid field. Out of nowhere, they’re rescued by a mysterious man who reveals himself as Ego (Kurt Russell), a powerful intergalactic wanderer who is literally his own planet- and the father of team leader Peter Quill/Star-Lord (Chris Pratt).
As the team separates so Rocket can repair the ship and Peter can get to know his pop better, the Sovereign contact Yondu (Michael Rooker) and his Ravagers to track down the Guardians. Things come to a head when Yondu meets up with Rocket and Nebula, and the real intent of Quill’s father is revealed.
The details of the plot are slowly established through the cast’s interactions before all of the puzzle pieces begin to fit around the third act. For all of the impressive visuals in Guardians, it’s the conversations, humor and various dilemmas among the characters that are making these films so memorable.
Pratt delivers a well-rounded performance that’s both funny and surprisingly heartbreaking at times, and Gunn gives Star-Lord a level of vulnerability that’s uncommon for a prototypical leading man in big budget blockbusters. Drax provides some of the biggest laughs both literally and for the audience- his rapport with Ego’s psychic assistant mantis (Pom Glementieff) is very well written, as they’re two aliens with very earnest personalities and literal interpretations of Earth-style conversating.
Yondu has a fun side arc with Rocket where the two battle Ravagers and find they have more in common than they realize. The scrappy trash panda fox raccoon often acts like a parental figure to Baby Groot, and he retains his usual arrogant bravado from the first film. However, Rocket uses it to mask his fears, and also like the 2014 entry showed, there’s a gigantic heart beneath all of that fur and bio-engineering. Even Nebula has an unexpected soft side, though you’ll have to wade through some intense battles between her and her sister to get to them.
Russell’s Ego is deceptively warm as he shows Quill and Drax the visual splendor of his planet, and the filmmakers don’t spare any expense turning it into a colorful wonderland. Even during some of the more intense scenes, there’s an odd beauty to many of the shots and locations. It’s nice to see computer effects with a realized attention to detail, and even in 2017, not all major tentpole CGI-fests have them yet. But even if it wasn’t an impressive looking film, the strength of the cast would still make up for it.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is a witty, touching and lovingly rendered space opera that I’ll easily recommend. Its ambitions as a film are primarily making a story that allows the Guardians to grow as people, as opposed to messing with the MCU formula too drastically. If you enjoyed the first movie as much as I did, the sequel proves basically more of the same, and Gunn and co. haven’t stumbled much here in that regard.